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Interview With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI); New York Shuts Down Nonessential Businesses; President Trump Verbally Attacks Reporter at Coronavirus Press Conference. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 20, 2020 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are, of course, continuing with our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

This afternoon, a grim new milestone for the United States, where we have now surpassed 200 coronavirus deaths. It is now up to 208 this minute, with nearly 16,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a number that in reality is assuredly much higher because of the lag in testing.

President Trump this afternoon saying he has kicked off the Defense Production Act, kicked it into gear to ramp up the manufacture and production of critical supplies, the president saying he actually invoked this act yesterday, though, at the time, he had said he would only invoke it in a worst-case scenario.

The president's message on this has been confusing even to his own Pentagon. Governors are taking the lead where the federal government is currently not, with many top health officials privately pushing for all Americans to stay home, so as to flatten the curve and reduce the expected surge in hospitals.

Governors Newsom of California and Cuomo of New York are now mandating that their citizens, with a few exceptions, stay home. That is nearly one in five Americans told to stay home.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease physician, says this new reality of staying at home and social distancing will continue for at least several weeks.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us now.

And, Kaitlan, President Trump praised the restrictions put in place in New York in California. And, as I mentioned, privately, health care experts say this really should be done nationally to be effective.

Is there any consideration being given to ordering a national stay-at- home mandate? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, when you

ask White House officials on this task force, they say nothing is off the table.

But the president today seemed to tamp down any kind of expectation that a national-style lockdown could be happening any time soon, saying he doesn't feel like it's necessary in other parts of the country, like the governors of New York and California have decided it is there.

TAPPER: Mr. Trump also said he kicked the Defense Production Act into gear today.

So what does that mean? Are American companies actually being told they need to make masks, make ventilators right now?

COLLINS: Well, this is the confusion, because the president said he actually did so last night.

That was, of course, after Senator Schumer said he urged the president today to do so. But, yesterday, before that, the president had said he didn't feel like it was necessary at this time. He didn't feel like he needed to pull the trigger.

And, of course, the confusion over today is whether he's actually directed these companies to do so, because that is what the act does. It's directing private companies to speed up production here. And the president didn't provide a list of companies, that he said he's done this before. He then later said they're voluntarily doing it, which seems to go completely against him saying that he's actually gone with this.

And the confusion over this is important, because it determines whether states need to need to know that they need to continue to be bidding on ventilators, masks and things of that nature that they say they're not getting.

And the president in his power with this has the authority to speed this up, to solve this problem that so many states say they're having.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, the president's leadership during this crisis will be judged, I'm sure, at some point for what it is.

And one of the things that happened today is, Peter Alexander from NBC News, which, by the way, just lost an employee to coronavirus, Peter Alexander basically threw the president an underhand softball, just basically, what's your message to Americans who are scared?

And there are a lot of Americans who are scared.

He responded by attacking him. Then you asked the president about that directly.

COLLINS: Yes, it seemed to be a pretty benign question, just what is your message to people who've had their lives disrupted on a daily basis? And the president was clearly not happy with it. And so then I asked the president, does he really feel like it's inappropriate -- or appropriate to be speaking to a reporter like that, going off on a network while we're going through a pandemic?


COLLINS: Do you really think going off on Peter, going off on a network is appropriate when the country is going through something like this?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do, because I think Peter's -- I have dealt with Peter for a long time. And I think Peter is not a good journalist when it comes to fairness.

COLLINS: But he's asking for your message to the country, and then you went off on Peter.

TRUMP: Oh, I think it's a good message.


COLLINS: So the president there defending his actions.

We should note, Jake, just moments later, the same reporter asked the vice president the exact same question. He responded much differently, instead telling Americans to be vigilant, and did not offer any criticism of the media.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, what's odd about it, obviously, Kaitlan, is that, even if it had been a tough question, it's not appropriate for the president to respond like that. But that was the easiest question in the world. Assure the public that everything is OK and that we're going to get through this, Mr. President.


COLLINS: Yes, and you could see the looks on the faces of the people sitting next to the president.

He's got two scientists up there, Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci, standing with him, his health and human services secretary. And it's just been this jarring moment, because the president has been at these briefings every single day this week.

And each day, you have seen him become a little bit more confrontational with reporters. And, of course, this is the president's style. He is not going to change. If you talk to people close to him, they will tell you that.

But it was really striking to see it on display for such a simple question during a time that we're going through like this one.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has now ordered 100 percent of nonessential workers in New York state to stay home, obviously in an effort to try to slow the spread of coronavirus to avoid a surge in hospitals.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is live for us in New York City.

And, Shimon, I know Governor Cuomo said that journalists do count as essential workers because we are conveying information of what's going on, health information to the public. Who else are considered essential workers that are not told to stay at home?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So it's the nurses. Of course, that is probably -- it's the front-line people, the most important people that we are all going to look to as things escalate here, the nurses, doctors, medics, the emergency medical technicians that are going to be responding to calls.

It's the police officers. And it's even your local shopping market, your store, the clerks, pharmacies, and the pharmacists, and the clerks who work in those places. These are the people that he's saying should report to work if they can.

These are the people that we're going to need as this progresses. And, really, the other thing here that the governor is saying is that they're offering a premium on anyone who can make, who can manufacture these protective gears, these goods that nurses and medical staff need right now.

There is a shortage. And they realize it. And they're asking anyone who can manufacture these items to do so. Here's how the governor explained what they need:


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): If you are a business that doesn't manufacture these exact items, but if you have equipment and personnel, and you believe that you could manufacture these items -- they're not complicated. A mask is not a complicated item to make. A PPE gown is not a complicated item. Gloves, nitrile gloves are not a complicated item.

If you can make them, we will give you funding to do it.


PROKUPECZ: And so that's what it what we have here now, Jake, the governor saying, we're offering money at a premium price for these goods.

They really need these items. And that is what the focus on -- it's the ventilators. It's making sure that the doctors and the nurses have the gear, have the equipment as this progresses -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz in New York City, thanks so much.

Those stricter measures in New York come just hours after California became the first state in the country to issue mandatory restrictions over the coronavirus and order its 40 million residents to stay at home.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live for us in Los Angeles.

And, Kyung, what are the exceptions here? And do Californians seem to be abiding by these new rules?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start there on who is abiding by these rules.

Largely, what we have seen in these first hours these first 12 hours of Governor Newsom's stay-at-home rule, it certainly appears to be the case. You can see that there's one group of people over there, but generally every single retail shop on this block everywhere that we have been has been completely closed.

The exceptions have been, as we just heard from Shimon, very similar here in California, hospitals, banks, and restaurants where you can take out the food. You can see this one says open 9:00 a.m. This is for a coffee shop in Los Angeles.

And the owner, Patricia Vuagniaux, says that she's complying with the rules. She is making sure that no one is able to sit here in the dining room, but people aren't going to be able to come in, grab their coffee and leave. That is something that is allowed under the governor's order.

So why did this come about? Well, Governor Gavin Newsom says he simply did the math. And when he did that, if you look at where the infection rates are happening in the state and the rate of it, in eight weeks, the governor was estimating that more than half of the residents in the state would be infected with the coronavirus.

And I also want to refer, Jake, to something that Kaitlan was talking about, the question that she and Peter Alexander asked the president about fear. That actually hits home right here.

Patricia says that her employees here are scared. She's also scared. She wants to help flatten the curve. So she is going to close. Even though she doesn't have to completely close, she's going to do that. And what we found here is that she's selling off all her supplies.

It's essentially a fire sale by this small business, so that she can comply with the government and close and try to help flatten the curve, Jake.


TAPPER: All right.

Well, while we're talking about the personal note there of fear expressed by the woman you spoke with, we have been hearing about these horrific instances of anti-Asian discrimination, racism, xenophobia, because of the coronavirus, because it originated in China.

And you and I talked about this. You said it was OK for me to bring it up.

You had an unsettling encounter today while out reporting on this story.

LAH: Yes, I don't think -- I think it's been since elementary school, but I haven't heard it directly to my face. It's something that you see on social media frequently, especially if you're an Asian-American reporting on controversial or even non-controversial news items.

And so we were standing there preparing for live shots this morning, just hours ago, and a man walked up and used a racial slurs, slung it right at me. And I was so surprised and so taken aback that I asked him to repeat it, because I couldn't believe it.

So, it is something thing that is happening. And what I find most surprising is that it's happening in front of our faces, directly at people. That is something that I have not experienced in a very, very long time in this country.

TAPPER: Well, I'm so sorry you experienced that.

And I would just like to note that, if you are stupid and racist enough to be holding random individuals of Asian descent responsible for a pandemic, then you should be self-quarantining from society anyway.

So that's what I have to say to that idiot.

Kyung Lah, thank you so much for your excellent reporting, as always.

Coming up next, retired doctors and nurses now being asked to return to work if they can, as hospitals prepare for the worst.

And ahead, the governor of one state who has seen cases rise almost 400 percent in just the last two days. What is she going to do?

Stay with us?




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: Today, there are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus. That doesn't mean that we're not going to do everything we can to make things that have even a hint of efficacy more readily available.

There's no magic drug out there right now.


TAPPER: That's Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, bluntly stating the status of a vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus, this as President Trump continues to exaggerate, optimistically sell, however you want to describe it, the potential of narcotics available to treat coronavirus.

Joining me now, CNN medical analyst Dr. Celine Gounder, a clinical assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases at NYU Bellevue.

Dr. Gounder, the anti-malaria drug that President Trump says would be made available almost immediately, we're a long way from there. It still needs to be approved by the FDA. They say that could take months. They need to do clinical trials. They need to make sure that there aren't any side effects.

Do you have any concerns about this particular drug? How optimistic should the nation be?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, chloroquine is known to have some serious side effects.

There is another study that came out of France very recently looking at hydroxychloroquine, which is a related drug, in combination with a common antibiotic. That also is very promising, but it was only about 20 patients. So that doesn't really give you adequate information safety or effectiveness.

I do think what we will see happening is people like me, doctors who are working in the hospital, we will be prescribing some of these drugs when they're available, and probably trying as much as possible to get patients enrolled into these clinical trials to see if these things work.

But there's -- this is not a slam dunk. This is early, promising research, but that doesn't mean this is going to work.

TAPPER: During last night's town hall, Dr. Fauci said that the National Institutes of Health is launching a trial of coronavirus treatment using antibodies from patients who have recovered.

What might we be able to learn from recovered patients?

GOUNDER: Well, we have done this with other illnesses as well.

During Ebola, there was a drug called ZMapp that we tried. Turned out not to be tremendously effective. We have used this with other infections like chicken pox or hepatitis B. And so there is a role for this, but you're still then waiting for somebody to get sick. And when you try to rescue them with a drug like that, there's no guarantee that it's going to work.

TAPPER: If someone has recovered from coronavirus, are they able to get reinfected? Or is it like chicken pox, like you can only get it once?

GOUNDER: Yes, so there's been a lot of confusion about that.

We think, at least based on what we know about all the other coronaviruses, that if you are infected with COVID-19, you will be immune to COVID-19 thereafter, at least for one to three years. So, at least during this wave, you should not be able to be reinfected.

Now, that said, relapse is a possibility. So, in other words, you're infected, you start to get better and then you get worse again. So that may be some of what we're seeing.

And then as the virus evolves over time, say, in three years' time, it may change enough that your immunity is not as robust as it was initially.

TAPPER: Mayor de Blasio of New York City, where you are, says the federal government has two weeks to get New York City the medical supplies they need, or they will be in -- quote -- "much greater danger."

He's asking for three million masks -- those are the special N95 masks that provide respiratory protection -- 50 million surgical masks, which provide less protection, 1,500 ventilators, which do breathing for patients, plus, of course, gowns, gloves, face shields, other PPE, personal protective equipment.

Is that a conservative number, a liberal number? Like, do you think that that's about right? What else it might be needed beyond those items?


GOUNDER: I mean, I think we're going to need even more than that. And I am really concerned that that's not going to arrive in time.

We already have hospitals that have run out of N95 masks here in New York City. I have colleagues who are using plain surgical masks, which are really not intended to protect you against getting coronavirus. They're really meant for putting on sick patients so that they don't infect you, so they trap their sneezes and coughs inside the mask.

I have friends who are ordering -- doctor friends who are ordering bandanas on Amazon for their team because the CDC is saying, well, that may be all you -- is available to us, so stock up on bandanas and scarves.

And that's -- I find that really unfair, when I know that there are people who have stocks of N95 masks at home, businesses who have hordes of them as well. And we're the ones going out on the front lines. We don't have the option to stay home and take care of patients from home.

We're the ones putting ourselves at risk and we're being told, well, wear a bandana.

TAPPER: Well, Dr. Gounder, who has stockpiles of N95 masks that they're not giving up? I heard about today a bunch of Hollywood studios, like "Grey's Anatomy," giving everything they have to local hospitals.

Obviously, anyone who has anything should follow suit. Who are you talking about? Construction companies? Who?

GOUNDER: I would hesitate to say exactly and point fingers. I would say there are--

TAPPER: Oh, it looks like a our feed with Dr. Gounder went out.

That's one of the repercussions of doing everything remotely, which we are trying to do in this day and age of the pandemic.

Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you so much.

Up next, I'm going to talk to one of the nation's governors who had the chance to tell President Trump exactly what she and her state needs, as cases in that state surge.

Stay with us. We will be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

Coronavirus cases are spiking nationwide, including in the state of Michigan, where the numbers have shot up more than 400 percent in 48 hours to at least 549 confirmed cases.

Joining me now is Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Governor, thanks so much for joining us. President Trump praised the effort of federal government officials getting states necessary supplies.

I guess my first question is, do you have everything you need from the federal government? Do you have the masks, the ventilators, anything you need, to fight this virus?


And, of course, Michigan's not alone. You were just talking to a doctor in New York. I mean, we know that, across the country, governors are scrambling to try to meet the need of our people.

I don't think that the federal government did the work on the front end to prepare. And now we are really scrambling. We have got -- of course, you mentioned how the increase has gone up so dramatically, and yet we know that there's a lot more coronavirus present across the country and, of course, in my state as well, because we're just not able to test everyone that we should be. We need tests.

We need personal protection equipment. We need resources. We need regular, sustained, national strategic plan here, and solid, clear communication. And I think these are all the important pieces that are missing from the federal government, that we governors are trying to step up and meet that need. TAPPER: The president said yesterday, when asked about this cry from

the governors, that governors are supposed to be doing this work. And he said something along the lines of, we, in the federal government, we're not a shipping clerk.

What was your response?

WHITMER: You know, I -- it's -- I'm just frustrated.

I don't want to be in a sparring match with the federal government. But I can tell you this. We are behind the eight ball because they didn't do proper planning.

And now we are trying to work across state -- across states to make sure that we're pulling in the private sector to step up and manufacture masks and personal protection equipment.

I think that the governors have really done some aggressive, smart things, driven by science and facts and always what are in the best interests of our people.

But every one of these decisions weighs heavily on us all, because there are ramifications. When you close schools -- in my state, we have 1.5 million kids in schools. That means half of them, 750,000, are going without meals because they're not in the classroom. So we have got to make provisions to ensure that our kids are getting fed.

When we close bars and restaurants, those have ramifications in terms of people being out of work and not being able to pay their bills. And so each of these aggressive, necessary steps weighs heavy on all of us.

But we're doing the best we can with the best science available to us. And we need additional support out of the federal government, to be sure.

TAPPER: So, Governor, top health officials are privately saying that they think that the state home orders that California and New York, Governors Newsom and Cuomo, have ordered really should be national.

Cases in your state nearly doubled overnight. The number is expected to grow. You know what the rate is. It's doubling roughly somewhere between two and three days.

I'm sure, if I put sodium pentathol in Governor Newsom and Governor Cuomo and said, do you wish that you had done the stay at home, knowing now -- knowing then what you know now, do you wish you had done it two weeks ago, I'm pretty confident that they would say yes.

Why aren't you doing that? Why aren't all the other governors doing that?